Lynn Wenzel: Mind your own house
April 15 will be here before we know it. Paying your taxes? Well, aren’t you a chump!
Some 400 years ago, my ancestors helped build one of the greatest democracies the world has known. I was honored to be a descendant of revolutionary soldiers, politicians and patriots. My family held itself to the highest standards of honesty, devotion to duty, and service for the better good. But the smell of dirty money has invaded my White House. Grifters have taken over my government and we, the people, are being bilked.
Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency administrator, had a $25,000 soundproof booth built in his office. Steve Snider, salesman at Acoustical Solutions who built the booth said: “Privacy booths typically cost $5,000-$6,000.” Pruitt requested significant modifications. So he could change into his Superman suit in private? Pruitt has also spent $58,500 on charter and military flights, specifically to avoid traveling in coach, because, he said, some people were not nice to him. Snowflake. My taxes are paying for it.
Fabulously wealthy Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin could easily afford to buy his own Gulfstream. Instead he commandeered a government jet, so he and his wife could view the eclipse of the sun. And, he asked for the equivalent of Air Force One on his honeymoon because he “need[ed] secure communications.” So they could whisper sweet nothings into each-others’ ears, I presume?
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, who traded health care stocks while passing legislation to boost those stocks, took a trip to Europe with his wife that cost about $500,000. Total accrued for using private jets and military aircraft — more than $1 million. He has promised to repay a “fraction” of the total cost. When all came to light, he resigned, but not before his boss called him a “fine man.”
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke flew a private jet with his wife, Lolita, to Norway and the Caribbean and another private jet in March 2017 to take him from St. Croix to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. On June 26, a Beechcraft King Air 200 carried Zinke and some staffers from Las Vegas to Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, Montana, a 20-minute drive from his home. There, he met the chairman of Fidelity National Financial, a major backer who gave nearly $200,000 to Zinke’s campaigns. The flight cost $12,375 taxpayer dollars. One of Zinke’s pals, Utah state representative, Mike Noel, has a special interest in the national monument lands Zinke is eliminating. Noel appeared in the Interior Department’s visitor logs three times in October 2017. Unsurprisingly, land owned by Rep. Noel is part of the 50 percent taken from Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and opened for development.
Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, indulges his love for interior design at taxpayers’ expense. Under Carson’s watch, HUD recently spent $165,000 on lounge furniture. Carson’s representative stated that “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair” for his office. Late in 2017, HUD spent $31,561 on a dining set for the room where Carson has lunch. (The purchase has since been returned. Snagged.) The department bought the set late in 2017, just as the administration was proposing major cuts to HUD programs for the homeless, elderly and poor. Carson said he didn’t want to make subsidized housing “too comfortable.” My taxes are “subsidizing” his office. I’d like to make it a little less comfortable.
Donald Trump operates Trump International hotel down the street from the White House and under a lease from the government. Supposedly, he donates income from foreign visitors to the Treasury to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Mr. Trump takes taxpayer-funded trips to his various resorts at a pace no other president has ever come close to and my taxes pay for every jaunt. A Trump property in the UAE earned $10 million last year. The way lobbyists obtain a meeting with a Cabinet secretary is booking a conference room at Trump International. By merely showing up at Mar a Lago, Trump has doubled his profits there from $15.5 million to up to $37 million in 2016-2017. Emoluments clause anyone?
And then there is Michael Corleone. I mean, Jared Kushner, senior advisor to the president.
Last year, Apollo Global Management founder, Joshua Harris, began paying regular visits to the White House to meet with Kushner. Harris was very interested in a possible White House job and in November 2017, Apollo lent $184 million to Kushner’s family real estate firm. An even larger loan came from Citigroup, which lent the Kushner firm and one of its partners $325 million to finance some office buildings in Brooklyn. The loans came right after Kushner met Citigroup’s chief executive, Michael l. Corbat in the White House.
Kushner and his family are in debt, especially on his property at 666 Fifth Ave., NYC on which he owes $1.5 billion dollars; the loan comes due in January 2019. Kushner’s firm has sought investments in China, Israel, Russia and Qatar. Kushner resigned as chief executive of Kushner Companies when he joined the White House, but he retained the clear majority of his interest in Kushner Companies, one of which received the Apollo loan.
This is not a Republican or Democratic problem. This is not a conservative or liberal problem. Corruption is bipartisan.
But never has there been such a kleptocracy in my White House. Never have there been so many hands in so many pockets. I am being scammed.
As my grandmother would say, “There’s some funny business going on here.” And my taxes are paying for it. Do you still want to pay yours?
Lynn Wenzel lives in Grass Valley
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